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We are not talking about films that people have a chance to see any more. We are talking about thousands of forgotten black-andwhite feature films and television series. Woody Allen made a color movie recently called “Radio Days," and he made that film, because when he was growing up in the forties, he felt that all of those stars on the radio shows that he grew up loving and admiring and a generation with him enjoyed those too, they were forgotten entertainers, those shows were forgotten. Nobody remembered who they were.
I know I don't want the forgotten stars of Hal Roach Studios to remain forgotten, like Charlie Chase, Thelma Todd, Zasu Pitts. Nobody knows who they are. Maybe in colorization they will get a new audience.
I don't want Spencer Tracy or Gary Cooper to be forgotten as well. We are trying to preserve an American heritage, the culture that people enjoyed years and years ago in two forms: in its original theatrical version and for a new version, and for future generations to come, in color.
WRITTEN STATEMENT FOR SUBMISSION TO THE SUBCOMMITTEE TECHNOLOGY AND THE LAW OF THE U.S. SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
May 12, 1987
I happen to love movies. As a child I collected films and put the music to silent films I collected and came to Hollywood with the idea of somehow working in the film industry.
I began as a cinematographer/editor for ABC, and eventually joined Filmways which became Orion. I was director of marketing and I worked on over 100 movies adapting them to television standards everything from "COTTON CLUB" to "BOXCAR BERTHA". Many of the films I adapted would never have had a chance to air on television because they contained profanity and violence, which would not have been suitable for broadcast television. Being in syndication I have learned a lot about the problem films that we are talking about today. I say problem films because they are black-and-white movies and there really isn't a market for black-and-white movies today on television or home video.
When I was growing up in the 50's, everything on television was in black-and-white. So, when I was watching the classics, and Laurel & Hardy films, they were already old movies. They were scratchy, murky prints, and I just assumed that, because they were old movies, that's the way they looked. Moreover, many of the films that were broadcast in black-and-white in those days were actually filmed in color! In 1966, the networks went all color. Since that time there has been an erosion of availability for, and interest in, the black-and-white films that I grew up loving.
It's a shame so many of the great times of the past are becoming forgotten. Through Colorization TM and coloring films with these various processes, many of the feature films that I loved on television are suddenly becoming available again. These new colored versions are broadcast not only on the late, late shows, but, are instead being broadcast in prime time where the majority of the public can see them. Television stations and home video stores realize the value of color. Many video stores carry black-and-white movies because they do not rent well, and, unless they are priced very low they will not sell at all.
When I was approached to work for Hal Roach Studios, I was thrilled because my love for Laurel & Hardy. The first thing we did was to discover in the vaults all the films that were deteriorating, paralleling the general lack of public interest in black-and-white film. These movies were filmed on combustible nitrate stock. Most of the films I am talking about are 40, 50, 60 years old and were filmed on combustible nitrate stock. It was not until the '50s that safety stock came into being. There has been no economic reason, up until recently, to really preserve those films.
Colorization has made that a possibility. The conversion of black-and-white to color suddenly has provided companies with an economic incentive to restore these films.
Television stations refuse to buy old black-and-white films. When the same films are converted into color, stations will buy the films and place them in the periods where people can watch
them. As a film buff, I am happy that people are going to know who comedians Olson and Johnson and others are; that Gary Cooper, who won two Oscars for two black-and-white films, will not be a forgotten performer. The films themselves are powerful stories and they are good movies. If nobody sees them, if they sit on a shelf, they don't do anybody any good at all. By putting them in color, we are exposing them to a new audience and a new generation of viewers.
These films were not made with television in mind. Television is a different medium than is the theater. Black-and-white feature films were a medium designed for a 50ft or 75ft theater screen. When people went to the movies every week in a darkened theater, they were swept up into the magic of movies. The subtleties, the gray value, the shades, everything was crystal clear from a 35mm projector. On television when you are watching a 16mm print on a 19" or 25" color television set, many of those nuances are lost. The impact, the power of the movie, is often lost as well.
Yet, if you can't see a movie because it is on a shelf, you are going to miss it totally. Through the ColorizationTM conversion, these films are becoming available for viewing in blackand-white or color. The magical stories, the wonderful acting that was a part of these movies that made them so timeless, are available again because of this new medium, this different art form, which is coloring the films for videotape distribution.
There has been a lot of talk about destroying the film. Nothing could be further from the truth! We never color the film. We first restore the original black-and-white film. We then transfer the film to videotape and, with the assistance of an art director, color the videotape. The movie is then released in videotape in black-and-white and color. (See Attachment A).
It's exciting to be preserving the Laurel & Hardy films. Not only have we taken the 35mm nitrate stock and restored them to safety stock, but we found lost reels and restored them as well. One of the films we have colored, "THE MUSIC BOX", is a film originally done in 1932 for which stan and ollie won an Oscar. It is a great movie. It was in black-and-white and it had not been in syndication for several years. Because it was an early transitional film from the silent to sound era, there was no music to it. We recorded the Laurel & Hardy music with a full orchestra in stereo and rescored this movie. So, not only is it now in color, but it is now in stereo. And it is thrilling! Stan's daughter looked at this move and said, "Hey, that's my dad, he's got red hair." Nobody knew this before, and it is wonderful to see this film today and to see the kids and the adults laugh at this movie. Hal Roach wants to make sure that movies are preserved and enjoyed. These films were made as entertainment and we want to make sure that people get a chance to see them now and forever.
These films were all originally made for the theaters. We are not making films for the theaters. We are making them for television and home video. But, after we preserved the Laurel & Hardy films in 35mm, some of them were released theatrically to revival houses. Currently, we have the films on tour nationally with beautiful 35mm prints called "THE STAN & OLLIE FOLLIES." (See Attachment B). Ideally, that is how the films should be seen, as they were originally intended. They were designed for a theater and that is where they are best. But television viewers, people who have color television sets, want to see color on their color television sets. I can't argue with that. If nobody wanted color, we would not be doing it. But, I think we all agree, viewers should have the right to choose for themselves.
Frank Capra brought to Hal Roach Studies, prior to my joining the company, his beautiful 35mm print of "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The film had lapsed into public domain and people were not seeing the movie as he wanted them to see it. They were seeing it with scratches. They were seeing edited versions. Scenes were missing and, because it was in public domain, maybe 20-25 distributors were making it available, just to television, but to home video as well. Mr. Capra came to us and wanted to consult on the film as a color advisor. It is his print that he brought to our company, and we were delighted that he did.
If you are a film buff you already know that "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE" was a financial disaster, a flop, when it was first released in 1946. It's a shame. The critics trashed it. Maybe it was a little ahead of its time, but it is a timeless classic, and rather than have it be forgotten we have enhanced it and brought it to millions of people who would not watch it otherwise.
We are not doing this to "desecrate" Mr. Capra's movie. In fact, we worked very hard to make it acceptable to today's audience. Halfway through colorizing the film, a technological breakthrough happened in the Colorization process. Like any new technology, it gets better every day. New things happen. Our color palette broadened, and so we stopped with what we had done (we were halfway through) and started over. We ended up with spending over half a million dollars to colorize the movie. With the public response we got it was really worth it.
The response that we had in sales was phenomenal. Within ten days we cleared 100 stations. By the end of six weeks we had lined up over 150 markets, 96% of the country. We did not need to do much advertising; the stations on their own wanted to show these pictures in color. When the high ratings came in we were even more excited because that meant that people were seeing these films.
The ratings have shown what a success this has been.
In Washington, D.č., the newly colorized versions of "NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD" ran opposite a black-and-white print of "CASABLANCA, an obviously superior movie. The ratings in this market for "NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD" were double that of "CASABLANCA" were because of the new color! Other markets also reflected a continuing viewer preference color over black-andwhite.
Chicago 7PM Broadcast
("NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD" Colorized)
(HITCHCOCK'S "PSYCHO" black-and-white)
Boston Midnight Broadcast
WNEV (CBS affiliate): Rating: 2.4; Share: 16
("NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD" Colorized)
WQTV Rating: -0.0; Share: -0
(HITCHCOCK'S "THE LADY VANISHES" black-and-white) Washington, D.C. 8PM Broadcast
WTTG (Indie) Rating: 7.2; Share: 11
I "NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD" Colorized)
WDCA (Indie) Rating: 3.6; Share: 5
Hal Roach has a tremendous film library with wonderful movies, many of them with forgotten stars. Edgar Kennedy, Charlie Chase, Thelma Todd, Zasu Pitts, great performers and yet nobody knows who they are. By putting these movies in color we hope the people will discover that Charlie Chase was the Steve Martin of his day. His films are delightful! You can't give them away in black-and-white. What a loss for audiences and the craftsmen who worked so hard to deliver family entertainment.
Most producers are aware of the demand for color on color television and have jumped at the chance to create new versions of old movies, Otto. Preminger films have brought us such classics to color as "ADVISE AND CONSENT" and "THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM." Twentieth Century Fox brought to the public a color version of "MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET" and several Shirley Temple classics. Disney presented Fred MacMurray in color as "THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR." MGM is presenting Liz Taylor and Spencer Tracy in "FATHER OF THE BRIDE,” and Warner Bros.' classics starring James Cagney and Errol Flynn. Universal is colorizing Alfred Hitchcock films. This is exciting news to film buffs and people who just plain want to see good movies on television.
Because many classic films like "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE" are in public domain, we have decided to locate, preserve and to colorize them. Because they are in the public domain, the existing prints are not very good. So, whether you are watching public domain prints of "MEET JOHN DOE" with Gary Cooper or "SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT" with James Cagney, the existing print quality of the black-and-white films is generally poor.
Our source for all of these films has to be 35mm prints. If a print that we find is scratchy or duped or filled with cue dots, we cannot really do much for it because it is still going to have those same flaws . Even in color those flaws will show up. For "SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT," we tracked down a hard to find 35mm print. It was missing about ten minutes of film time. So we looked again and kept searching. Eventually we had to locate five different flawed prints of "SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT" and we re-assembled a film that is as good as it was in 1936. That cost a lot of money. We would not be doing this if we did not feel that we could at least get our money back through colorizing the film. But, besides that, we are taking a film that nobody really cared about, preserving it, giving it lasting value and making it available to the public in both black-andwhite and color. We are doing the same thing with the other public domain films.
Another enjoyable film is John Wayne's "THE ANGEL & THE BADMAN." It is public domain film in black-and-white often shown at two or three in the morning. The movie is better than that and deserves to be seen by more people. We located a beautiful 35mm print, sent a photographer to Sedona, Arizona, which is where the film was originally shot, and tried to capture the flavor of the mountains, the sky, the trees, the lovely Gail Russell and John Wayne. Our art director made this film contemporary, and gave it lasting value. Now perhaps a younger audience, kids with remove control for their television sets, won't take their changer and whiz past something because it is in black-and-white. Maybe they will just stop for a few minutes and say, "Gee, that's a good film," and not think of it as just being something old that their parents enjoyed. It is a different experience! Now watching "THE ANGEL & THE BADMAN" it's so vibrant, it's alive.